Winers and Losers

17 Aug

         

                Winners and Losers of the Future

The study of nations, countries, businesses, public organizations, and political parties and is a story of winners and losers. The winners reap the spoils, thrive and grow. Losers fade away, losing their prominence, giving historians something to analyze and tell us what the loser did wrong. I don’t claim to be a qualified historical analyzer, but it’s impossible not to think about such profound matters if you watch the TV news and read the newspapers.

Several of my Grandfather Bowden’s family served in Company K, 25 Alabama Infantry Regiment, during the War for Southern Independence. That makes me a descendant of losers, but I don’t feel like a loser. Teetering on the brink, maybe, but not yet over the edge of the big black hole. Maybe that’s because I was not present when the winners reaped its spoils. Time heals wounds. Maybe the winners are still reaping the spoils, and we don’t realize it because the process has been going on so long we have accepted what is inevitable. The long-term effects of  loss, however, can be determined only by time.

My immediate concerns have more to do with ways to survive the summer heat and digest our local newspaper’s recent report on the racial and ethnic makeup of students in our public schools , that seems to show we are becoming a Third World country.  Darwin said the strongest will survive, but I don’t know which group is the strongest. That article only shows who is the “mostest”.

In spite of long ago setbacks and recent shockers announced by the news media, however, I still don’t feel like I a loser. A member of the silent majority not being heard or properly represented, maybe, but not one who feels all is lost.  Inept government officials will pass like the hot weather of summer. But if we do become subjects of a society dominated by the rule of history which state that numbers rule eventually, we have to believe that is what we wanted, because it is voters who decide the fate of a free country.  We must hope that all will respect his fellow citizens so we can live together in harmony. A person who no longer believes Santa Claus enters our houses through twelve inch chimney flues has the right to indulge in wishful thinking, doesn’t he?

While listing things hinging on hope, all of us also have the right to believe that someday soon, we will elect a leader and his party to power that will take over governmental matters effecting us all and pull us out of the ever-deepening hole of crime, illegal drugs, corruption and immorality  we’re slipping into.

Regardless of what the future holds for us, we must remain prepared to accept the fact that winners wield the reins of power, so we’ll be driving our little red wagons into the sunset. Those who hold the reins and the whip in the driver’s seat will gain their positions by force of numbers at ballot boxes; strictly a numbers game. We must hope, therefore, that all drivers will have the interest of all at heart and do right for most of us most of the time.

Little comfort can be found in the results of national elections during recent times.  That fact should allay the fears of those concerned by population trends, because many voters already suspect that any change would be an improvement.

Who are the biggest winners in present-day political contests anyway? Is it the candidates or the ones who financed his/her campaign? Many believe voters will never be the winners unless big money is taken out of politics. We might also improve our government by requiring all eligible voters to vote, and if less than fifty per-cent do, perhaps the election should be repeated. And we could make election campaigns shorter, more concerned with issues rather than personalities, and the voting process simpler. Can we ever improve the process when so many are more interested in the outcome of sporting events than they are in government?

Hopefully, the addition of new voting multitudes in the future might improve things.  It’s better to believe that than to fear it won’t.  A positive attitude is the number one requirement for being a winner.

Whew! Next time I think I’ll write about something simple, like building a vehicle that defies gravity and floats us past gas pumps to any place in the country.

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If the Shoe Fits . . .

10 Jun

Winter_scene_at_Ladd_Field_Fairbanks_Alaska
Recalling things from any time is much like buying a new pair of shoes. Not all fit within our definition of comfort, but once we make the purchase and wear them a while, we can’t take them back. So we keep them, tolerating their flaws. What’s done is done; some rubbing comes with all things.

Some things from the past are best forgotten, perhaps, but a person can’t turn off memories like he can tap water. Once something is burned into your brain, it’s as permanent as a brand burned on a steer’s rump. We can at least talk about the pleasant ones, leaving all others at rest in the dark cellar of our minds.

I suspect I was sent to Alaska because of my grandfather. A man inherits color blindness from his grandfather, doesn’t he? When I entered the Army Air Corps in WWII, I wanted to be a cadet at the AC’s academy at Randolph Field. I qualified for admittance at Amarillo where you can stand on a bucket and see into the next state if there’s no dust storm, but when I reported to the disembarkation center and that sergeant told me to read the numbers on his Japanese color chart, I got shot down in flames. I was colorblind. There’d be no flying into the wild blue yonder for me. My dream of being a member of those soldiers referred to as “The cream of the crop” was shot as full of holes as the south end of a flying north-bound goose during hunting season in a Katy rice field.

After a long trip to Sioux Falls, S.D., in a railroad cattle car and brief exposure to radio construction and Morse code, I was placed on another train with other soldiers and sent to Edmonton, Canada, where we waited for a flight on an Air Transport Command piloted C-47 to Ladd Field, Fairbanks, Alaska. You will find a picture of some ice-coated C-47s parked at Ladd Field, at the top of this essay, hovering over a team of dogs pulling a sled.

In Alaska I learned there were ways of looking at living other then those I’d learned from my Mom, whose rules for behavior, I realized later, were based on the scriptures. Although accepted as the norm by most when I was a boy, I was to learn later that such rules of behavior had been pushed aside in favor of expediency and political correctness. Maybe that’s what the wise meant when he said winning a battle doesn’t mean you won the war.

At Ladd Field, there must have been almost as many Russians as there were on the Eastern Front, and more sled dogs than I’d ever see in the movies. While there, I also saw the Soviet Union’s Secretary of State Molotov without having a cocktail thrown at me, and I saw the author of the Thin Man novels, Dashiel Hammet. I met the move star, Ron McAllister, the handsome little guy everybody loved but usually got killed in the war movies he was in. He was standing alone at the bar in the PX, drinking a beer.

In the same PX, also saw a young Russian in civilian clothes who favored Russia’s present-day President Putin. Could’ve been his grandfather, I guess. I’ve tried contacting Putin on the internet to ask him, but haven’t found his website.

Some Southern boys, including myself, learned to ice skate and ski. Ice skating should be called ankle-flip-flop. We turned our ankles so much we cold hardly walk, bruised our back sides so much we cold hardly sit. We skated on the parade grounds which firemen had flooded with a thin coat of water that froze immediately.

For skiing, some innovative soldiers installed a lift with a long rope that traveled on rollers atop posts pushed into the snow and pulled by a tractor PTO just outside Fairbanks. At the time, skis were long and heavy, made of hardwood. If you allowed one to turn sideways on the slope, you could severely injure your hip or knee. They were attached to our feet by a spring around the heel of our ski boots, but it wouldn’t slip off if you fell; the ski went where it wanted to and your foot went with it. But after several attempts we beginners managed to glide safely to the bottom of that slope, grab the rope to be pulled back up the mountain and try again. I was awe amazed upon seeing old men and small children zipping down that slope like Finnish ski troopers in the movies. Strange sights to a farm boy from Texas where it seldom snowed.

Northern_Lights_over_Portage_River_Valley,_Alaska_Wallpaper_bimv

The most fascinating, even weird, sight I experienced, however, was the Northern Lights. It was dark about half the time, so we had lots of time to watch them. They swirled about in the heavens like slithering serpents of many colors, some of the color seeping downward into the black night like milk blending into clear water. It’s a sight one never forgets. I’ve placed a picture of them with this article.

The most alarming thing occurred when all personnel were ordered to check out 30 caliber carbines from ordinance. We all lined up for our weapons and boxes of cartridges which we placed under our bunks. We didn’t know who we were supposed to shoot, or when. The natives and the Russian were outwardly peaceful. We knew all was clear when hey ordered us to check in our rifles. We were glad Russia didn’t try to take back Alaska.

I’m not comfortable writing about my years in Alaska at a time when other soldiers, airmen and sailors were engaged in the horrible experiences of combat. They won the wars, and are due all the praise. But, like them, I went where I was ordered to go and I did what I was told to do.

I sometimes wonder if my life was spared by my color blind grandfather. One thing’s for sure: our country was transformed by that war and developments since, prompting me to remember the Donaldson/Lewis song, “How You Gonna Keep ‘em Down on the Farm” (after they’ve seen Paree.

North to Alaska, A little Bit North of Home

1 May

Alaska flag

It was 40 below zero when we landed at Ladd Field, Alaska (Fairbanks), in that trustworthy C-47. It felt good walking on the earth again, even if it was blanketed with snow. It had been a bumpy ride over the Rocky Mountains from Edmonton, Canada. Until then, this country boy thought a down draft was a reverse flow of smoke in a country fireplace. Finding out what it meant to airmen was one of the many things I would learn during my military service during WWII.

We were driven in GI trucks to Quonset huts in a wooded area nearby. I wasn’t nearly as concerned about how far as I was about how I’d keep from freezing in such a place so far from home.

Going with others into one of the huts with my duffle bag, I learned something else:  pot bellied heaters burn something beside wood. Some of it was burning, making the hut comfortable for anybody wearing parkas, long johns and wool-lined trousers. The only place I’d seen burning coal before was in my grandfather’s forge in his farm shop.

Our driver told us the last man to hit the sack should “bank the coal”. Up to then I was acquainted only with red clay banks on East Texas country roads and cloud banks preceding bad weather.  We were advised the term had to do with pushing live coals to one side of the fire bin and placing new coal on top of them. That caused them to burn through the night into early morning.  I began to think I should have brought a note pad.

I didn’t know if the last man going to bed banked the coal or not, but if he did it didn’t prevent my boots from being frozen to the wood floor the next morning. But there were no icicles on my nose.  Shivering, I dressed looked out into a bright, sunny day, glistening snow and dogs. Discovered we were housed near the dog kennels. They were sled dogs that slept outside in the snow, dog lovers. Moments later, a team of medium-size dogs of varying colors pulling a sled appeared. A man with a ship was standing on the rear end of it. I learned later that the driver was called a musher. ‘Til then, I thought mush was something soft you ate for breakfast.

Who would have ever thought that medium-size, furry animals could pull a loaded sled and a man so fast across the tundra? (Another new rod). In spite of their burdens, they were lively and apparently happy as each one strained to out-do his running mates. King in that Jack London novel was twice their size.

We were transferred weeks later to the Air Corps Barracks where we bunked until we were moved to wood barracks months later. The Air Corps barracks had central heat, inside toilets and showers, PX, a movie theatre, and lots of Russians.

hammer and sickle flag

Russians from the Ukraine looked like Germans. The ones most different in appearance were those from Mongolia. Regardless of their heritage, male Russian civilians always removed their hats when walking past the public.  The civilians were family members or Communist party representing the national government.

All Russians lived in apartments away from Americans. As a rule, they were aloof and seemingly unconcerned about not making friends with Americans who were giving them the fighter plane, Bell Air Cobra and other armaments, food, and many other things we never saw. But when with fellow Russians, they apparently enjoyed drinking vodka and dancing. They all wore brown uniforms with buttoned-up collars, and black military boots.

Fairbanks is not above the Arctic circle, but one time some friends and I checked out a truck from the motor pool and drove north on a dirt road well above it.  The area was mostly uninhabited, but along some streams we passed rotting down sourdough cabins, evidence of a past era when men panned for gold and invented sour dough bread. We passed one area where they were strip mining with powerful streams of water. I thought of all those things later each time I heard the Johnny Horton song, “North to Alaska”.

We arrived at a run-down village consisting of weather-beaten wood buildings and rotting boardwalks abandoned by most of its former inhabitants. Not sure of village’s name, but I think it was Millers Home. Two little girls were sitting on the boardwalk, and from them I learned that when reared in the company of adults, children don’t exhibit the childish ways of those in the Lower Forty-eight, instead talking and behaving like adults. Learning this left a lasting impression on me.

As time passed, my puritanical values were challenged by soldiers from other areas of the country that practiced different religions and social values, and spokesmen for adversaries and allies. It was enough to put a country boy’s mind in a whirl and make him wonder if the values he was taught early on really reflected the best choices for a good life. If they did, I questioned the purpose behind them being attacked so. It was clear that I was witnessing a life-and-death struggle between established values and new concepts for living. And I thought Karl Marx was just one of Groucho’s brothers.

Regardless of who Karl Marx was or what he stood for, we were sent to Alaska to save his followers.  Amid the growing storm, I wondered if our country would be the same after the war.

US Flag

Time Changes Everything

3 Apr

Scan10051

Remember the old country and western song “Time Changes Everything” composed by Anna Wilson? It was sung by most C & W singers: Bob Wills, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and others. If you’ve been around more winters than you’d care to mention, you’ll attest to the truth of that title.

You might also say that time messes up things too, but that messing up and change are synonymous. The main difference between the two might be the probability that we could have avoided some of the messing up. Unfortunately, however, as the words of another song put it, “It’s Too Late to do Anything About it Now” (sung by Willie Nelson).

Regardless of which word we use to describe the fix we senior citizens find ourselves in, it means the same thing: aging is inevitable as falling leaves in winter and its companion is change.  If you find a way to avoid the inevitable, please let me know and we’ll both soon be billionaires. But rich or poor, we’ll still end up in the same leaky boat.

The grim truth of the song title, “Time Changes Everything”, came to mind the other day when I went outside to dig a hole for a new azalea plant that would replace the one that died. The thought didn’t occur to me ‘til later that time apparently has the same effect on plants, trees and car paint.

So if you’re a man of many winters and find you have to dig a hole in your yard, which tool do you take first to the job site? A shovel? A grubbing hoe? A posthole digger?

None of the above. You take a lawn chair. And before you go back to your shop for the digging tools, you sit down and observe your surroundings, listen to the birds a few minutes and plan your strategy for performing the task at hand. After all, digging any hole for any purpose is a major undertaking, never to be taken lightly. Gone are the days when digging holes for fence posts encircling ten acres of new ground on the family farm of our youth. Realizing that as you consider the sore places you’ll have after planting your new azalea caused me think of yet another song. “Gone are the days, when my heart was young and gay. Gone are the days in cotton fields away.” But Stephen Foster was a relatively young man when he left this life. What could he know about such things?

Digging is not the only physical chore that tells all that time respects no man, regardless of race, ethnic group or the size of his bank account. He is made aware of this in a rather disgracing manner while doing things other than digging holes. Stooping down to pick up a penny he dropped comes to mind. Have you noticed lately how much farther it is to the floor from a standing position than it used to be? And how about getting down on your knees to clean up the coffee you spilled? Wow!

Getting back on your feet from your knees brings to mind the purpose of fork lifts and dynamite charges. The getting down was easy; it’s the getting up that is so humbling.  You hope no one is watching when you crawl to the nearest standing object that provides the means of restoring your dignity. It’s a blessing you’re alone when we have to do that. That’s why it’s less embarrassing when we struggle to rise from a sitting position in the bath tub: we’re alone. Makes you wonder when they’ll start putting bottom lifters in those water pits.

At such times one might wish he didn’t have to suffer such indignities, but if he does he immediately remembers the only option left for him if he didn’t.  He gains some comfort from knowing he can still endure the annual IRS Plague, the filing of his federal income tax return this time of year. Only the toughest old birds can continue tolerate that aggravation.

 

Guns, Little Boys & Grass Burrs

4 Mar

 

Guns, Boys and Grass Burrs

Back when I was a little boy, I lived in the country on a sandy land farm that wouldn’t grow anything well except grass burrs all over the place, Bermuda grass in cotton rows and bitter weeds in the cow pasture.

Most of our grass burrs were those large blue ones with a barb on the end of each sticker strong enough to hook a white shark. And the common Bermuda was anything but common. It was the hated nobility among grasses, distinguished by its ability to survive the sharpest hoe and plow. Cut it off one day and see new growth the next. And the bitter weeds were also very potent. One swallow of milk from cow that had eaten some the day before would wean you away from sweet milk until the weeds got tall enough that ol’ Bossy could graze between them.

But life on the farm wasn’t all bitter weeds. It was about open spaces to run free in after chores and rounding up bad guys with six-guns blazing. If imagination could have been bottled and sold, I would’ve been a spoiled rich kid living on a bottom land farm driving a Ford V8.

My first gun was a cap pistol with a crooked barrel and no hammer or trigger, given to me by somebody who felt sorry for me, apparently. That’s how I got some things that weren’t an absolute necessity during those hard years. But I didn’t think we were poor; I just thought we didn’t have any money. There was always food on the table three times a day, and the roof didn’t leak so much we couldn’t catch what leaked through in three buckets. And when it rained, that sound of it hitting the tin roof was the music of angels. Snug as a bug during winter under quilts up to my eyes with complete assurance that my parents and the rest of my family would always be there, and there would be a pan of steaming hot biscuits on the table the next morning. Who could have asked for more?

I made my next pistol out of the end of an apple box I got from Brookshire’s grocery on Taylor Ave. I loved apple boxes because they were made of soft, white wood good for whittling. Painted with black shoe polish, it was another deadly weapon to rid the world of evil people.

My next gun was a clicker. A healthy “bang” from one’s mouth was more fitting. After that one, I made myself a china berry gun from a straight section of a china berry tree limb. I punched the soft center out of it and pushed china berries through with a dowel rod.

The first gun that fired real bullets  was a .22, falling-block Stevens. Single shot. To load or eject an empty casing, you pushed down the lever beneath the stock to pull out the block containing the firing pin and shell extractor. Stock and all, it was probably no more than 36 inches long.

Another real gun I borrowed was .22 pump with a tubular magazine that held enough shells to shoot from Monday to Sunday. At that time, the only gun we owned was my dad’s single shot Iver Johnson 12 gauge shotgun which I never shot it because it kicked too hard. I found out about kicking when my Uncle George allowed me to shoot his blow-back, spring operated 12 gauge Remington auto loader. I squatted and fired, but couldn’t tell if I hit the can. All I saw was stars when I was knocked back on my seat on very hard ground.

The first rifle my dad purchased was a single-shot .22 Winchester from Branch Patton Hardware at Main and NorthChurch. Its sights were not true, so he traded it for a Remington. Peters cartridges cost about fifteen cents then. Like flour, Baby Ruth bars and Sunday talk on the front porch, everything was cheap then.

One of the best shots I made with that new .22 bolt action beauty I made in front of Ms. Annie Hall’s farm on what is now FM 343. I knocked a large hawk out of a gum tree about 75 steps from me.  Was like making a hole in one while playing golf by yourself. My next best shot was a crow in our melon patch. Had to slide on my belly up a gulch a long way to do it. Crows have sharp eyes and they always post a lookout in a nearby tree.

From the time I was old enough to go to school I had access to a .22 rifle, and I never even thought about shooting another human being other than imaginary cattle rustlers.  I wouldn’t recommend that for others, however, without safety training, and not then if a boy is with other boys. Boys don’t take dares well in the presence of his peers.

Beauty Makes Life Better

17 Jan

Green Jay poto from Alan 1-13

If we’re lucky, we find beauty everywhere, even in the lowly Green Jay which is found in the brush country of South Texas where everything sticks, bites or stings. This photo was taken in Live Oak County.  The Green Jay is a bird of  a surprising array of unusual color combinations. Its most striking feature lies in the medium blue feathers covering the top of its head. Below that, around its neck, is a circle of black feathers. Its body and wings, as you can see, are covered with varying shades of green.  They are a beauty to behold as they mix peacefully with other birds on the feeder at the Ormand Ranch.

Nature Calling

20 Nov

Windmill & water tank, Live Oak Cty 3-17-10

If some pictures are worth a thousand words, this one must be worth at least a couple of feel-good pills from your pharmacy. Its effect on the viewer is more immediate, like sudden silence following a flood of irritating noises. Many pastoral scenes produce he same sense of well-being, as though nature is calling us back to simpler lifestyles. It is during these spells of enchantment when we may wonder if we humans are nature’s children, who sense something is missing when we get too far away from its embraces.